Michel Agier is an ethnologist and anthropologist at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement et École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. Latest book : Le couloir des exilés. Être étranger dans un monde commun, Croquant Edition, 2011.

SEMINAR: “Global-scape of camps and the politics of neutrality” with Michel Agier and Thomas Keenan

Tuesday May 15, 2012 at 10:00 – Campus in Camps Al Feneiq Center, Deheishe Refugee Camp

The seminar will start with Michel Agier presenting comparative studies on refugees, camps and humanitarian politics followed by Thomas Keenan’s critical reflection on humanitarian action as an “apolitical or neutral gesture”. The participants in the seminar will be invited then to discuss some key concepts, notions and theories related to the production of the politics of humanitarian and refugee spaces.

LECTURE: The Camp as an Unconceived Form of Urbanism
Wednesday May 16, 2012 at 12:30- Al Quds Bard College, Abu Dis Campus

The presentation will revolve around Agier’s most recent works on the camp-form and explore the possibilities and the existing practices of transformation of refugee camps –and their specific form of urbanism- into laboratories of new forms of citizenship, communities of hope, constituency, polity and spaces from where a process of liberation can be triggered.

WALK: fieldwork visit with the students to refugee camps in Bethlehem and Hebron
Thursday May 17, 2012 at 10:00 – Campus in Camps Al Feneiq Center, Deheishe Refugee Camp

First impressions on Campus in Camps (14-18 of May 2012)

by Michel Agier

My participation at Campus in Camps was for me a great opportunity of exchanges and debates with all the participants from Dheisheh Refugee Camp and other camps of the West Bank (and partly with students of Al-Quds/Bard University in Abu Dis). I thank Sandi, Alessandro and each of the participants for the very kind welcome, the attention to seminar and lecture, the reactivity in the debate and your presentation of camps life and perspectives.

I think the main topic of our exchange was about the foundation and transformation of the camp. Presenting to you my investigations on all kinds of camps and encampments in the world (such as refugee camps of UNHCR in Africa or informal encampments in Europe) was a moment important to our exchange. We could put together in relation the experience of Palestinian refugee camps with other situations of refuges in the world. Although the material conditions are very different, and the historical processes also, and even if I agree with the idea of the “specificity” of each case (and mainly of Palestinian camps), the comparison is a very strong intellectual tool of “objectivation”. I told you that the Palestinian camp is the horizon or even the future of all camps that is born each day in the world. The becoming of the camp is something between the city and the “ghetto” (or of course, the disappearance). And I appreciate your insistence in speaking about this other horizon of Palestinian camps which is the return.

In this perspective, some of you mentioned the risk of “normalization”. This was not at first very clear for me… I don’t see the transformation of the camp to a ghetto or a city at first like “normalization”. On the contrary, it can be a strong political issue which permits to “end” with the camp as absolute place of banishment (this doesn’t mean end with the location itself). Transforming the camp, creating a relation with its outside, is a very political issue in general. But then I understand that, in the very hard political context of Palestinian camps, urban transformation would mean the loss of the Return paradigm, refugees would become like the other city dwellers and lose the political role they have in Palestinian struggle. This is a permanent “contradiction”, and an endless paradox that, I suppose, leaves to an insupportable experience of the situation.

Some of you have enunciated clearly this duality. On one side, the human desire or need to “improve” the place we leave, “inhabit” it, needs a form of actuation and subjectivation over the space and material conditions. On another side, the Return paradigm calls for a waiting space and a political mobilization against the “decree of segregation” (It remains that some sovereign force has taken over your people a “decree of segregation”, which very term is also the landmark of the foundation of the first jews ghetto, in 1516, in Venetia). This confirms, on my point of view, one point I didn’t develop in the lecture, seminar and discussion, but which is important and which I formalized in a scheme about today’s heterotopias, which shows that the figure of emprisonment is more or less present in each kind of off-places (camps, encampments, ghetto, etc.) .

The visit of the camp of Dheisheh and your explanations were important to advance in the reflexion about the relation between camp and city. I already had visited Palestinian camps in West Bank or Lebanon, but two main “improvements” impressed me. One was the architectural and urban creativity to turn the place more convenient without expanding the limits.

The other one is what is, I suggest, a response we/you have beside you to that problematic. I mean the city of Ad-Doha. Looking for some data on the net, I found that the town has around 10.000 inhabitants among which 75% are refugees. And your explanations, mainly, are that the city was founded by refugees from Dheisheh camp, that the major and the majority of the municipality are from Dheisheh camp. I would like then to propose you the hypothesis that Doha is the city of the camp when the camp could not extend his proper space, it created a “double” that is a city. The relation inverted or better say, the relation was created. With this urban double, the space of the camp is opening meanwhile the camp continues. Although the name of camp continues as a political symbol, the life in it is changing when relations with a welcoming outside is possible. Of course, the proper project Campus in camp is a major device of this relation: the official term “partnership” can be translated socially in an anthropological one, “relation”. This project brings a relation of the camp with the university, and with the “global” (what Bard college of New York represents).

Before the visit of the camps, one of you, Marouad proposed to give collectively the main items of the definition of REFUGEE. He noted on the board:

They lose their land
Limited movements
No safe
Bad situation
High education
No representation
Thirst for land
Adaptable to different situations

All the aspects of the condition of refugee camps are in these items. One of them seemed a bit strange: “High education”. As the author was questioned on this item which looks like a demand, he confirmed it, I understood, like a part of the definition. I would put this together with the item “Adaptable to different situations”, and then consider that this means a certain quantity and specific quality of knowledge linked to that historical “exceptional” experience of the camp.

A place of knowledge that could turn the camp in a campus ? Oh, yes, it’s still a camp, of course


Beit Sahour, May 18, 2012

Reading Materials

Managing the Undesirable. Refugee Camps and Humanitarian Government [ENG]

Official figures classify some fifty million of the world’s people as ‘victims of forced displacement’…

On the Margins of the World. The Refugee Experience Today [ENG]

Fifty million people in the world today are victims of forced relocation caused by wars and violence…

Humanity as an Identity and Its Political Effects [ENG]

At one of the weekly meetings of representatives of the nongovernmental organizations, national institutions…

From the Refugee the Ghetto is Born [ENG]

In this chapter, i propose to de-center the way we look at the central question that has been asked-that of the ghetto…

Gerer les indesirables – HT 8p [Images]

Gerer (complet)-1 [Images]

Related Videos

Seminar: Global-Scape of Camps and the Politics of Neutrality — By Dr.Michel Agier- Part 1

More Videos at http://www.youtube.com/campusincamps